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Will New Utah Laws Curb Repeat Crime, Add To Mass Incarceration?

Utah lawmakers passed 35 bills this session that either created a new criminal offense, expanded the definition of a current crime or enhanced existing penalties and fines, reports the Utah News Dispatch. Some lawmakers say their actions are aimed at curbing repeat offenders and holding criminals accountable, while others say the moves will add to mass incarceration and recidivism rates. In 2015, the legislature passed the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI), an attempt at criminal justice reform that reduced penalties for nonviolent offenses from a felony to a misdemeanor. The project was based on research suggesting Utah’s jails would overflow if the state didn’t focus on treatment and rehabilitation.

Steve Burton, director of the Utah Defense Attorneys Association, said the state never truly completed JRI, not funding rehabilitation sufficiently. However, there's a perception at Capitol Hill and in Utah law enforcement that JRI went too easy on crime. Since JRI passed in 2015, lawmakers have introduced 171 bills that created a new criminal offense (85 of them passed) and just nine bills were introduced that repealed a criminal offense (four passed). Of the 27 bills introduced this session creating a new criminal offense, lawmakers passed 15.


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